Twitter announced that it now supports the Do Not Track privacy feature in web browsers.
We commend Twitter for taking a step towards protecting their users’ privacy. In contrast to Twitter, other social networking sites collect and share as much of their users’ personal information as they can get their hands on. Some have also been making it increasingly hard for their users to figure out where the privacy controls are and what they mean *cough* Facebook *cough*.
However, it’s not just social networking sites – most major websites track their visitors’ behavior and then sell or provide that information to other companies. Websites, advertisers and others use tracking to learn about your web browsing behavior, including what sites you visit, things you like, dislike and purchase.
What Is Do Not Track?
Do Not Track is a privacy feature introduced by Mozilla and Stanford researchers that users can set in their web browsers. When Do Not Track is enabled, your browser will tell advertising networks and other websites and applications that you want to opt-out of tracking. It does this by transmitting a Do Not Track HTTP header every time your data is requested from the web.
The downside to Do Not Track is that websites are not obligated to honor it. Some websites have agreed to honor it, while other websites have decided not to, and simply ignore the request. Only websites that have agreed to honor the setting will automatically stop tracking your behavior.
The Do Not Track feature is supported by Firefox 5+, Internet Explorer 9+, and Safari 5.1+.
How to Enable Do Not Track in Firefox
Turning on the Do Not Track option in Firefox is easy.
- In your Firefox browser click on Tools > Options.
- Go to the Privacy tab.
- Check “Tell websites I do not want to be tracked” under Tracking.
Why Does Twitter Track My Browsing Activities?
Twitter collects data about what websites you visit in order to tailor personalized suggestions of who to follow based on your interests. It is in Twitter’s interest to encourage you to follow as many interesting people as possible. This keeps you coming back.
In Twitter’s own words:
We determine the people you might enjoy following based on your recent visits to websites in the Twitter ecosystem (sites that have integrated Twitter buttons or widgets). Specifically, our feature works by suggesting people who are frequently followed by other Twitter users that visit the same websites.
How to Disable Twitter Tailored Suggestions
In addition to enabling the Do Not Track feature in your web browser, you can also tell Twitter you do not want to enable Tailored Suggestions on your account. Doing so will also stop Twitter from collecting data about the websites you visit. The difference between the two is that by enabling Do Not Track in your browser you are telling all websites that honor the request to stop tracking you. Disabling the Tailored Suggestions in your Twitter account only stops Twitter from tracking your behavior.
To disable the personalized Tailored Suggestions in your Twitter account, do the following:
- Login to Twitter.
- Go to the Settings page. You can get to the Settings page by clicking the drop down arrow located in the Twitter header.
- Scroll down to Personalization, and uncheck “Tailor Twitter based on my recent website visits”.
Do Not Track Limitations
The Do Not Track browser setting is a nice feature, and I’d like to see it gain more traction. However, since honoring the request is strictly voluntary, it’s very limited in its effectiveness. As you can see from the official list of companies that honor it, the current list is extremely small.
If you are serious about protecting your privacy you should add other tools to your toolbox. Obviously I’m biased, but I would recommend you try our browser plugin, Light Point Web. With Light Point Web, no website will be able to track you across multiple sessions, because we force it by deleting all tracking cookies. Light Point Web also offers other benefits, like true malware protection. If you are interested, we offer a 30 day free trial, and signing up only takes a few seconds (no credit card required).
What do you think of Twitter’s move to honor the Do Not Track preference? Does it make you trust Twitter more? What other companies would you like to see supporting Do Not Track? Have you enabled Do Not Track in your browser?